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Running and Writing: A Moment with Jennifer Weiner

Most mother runners are familiar with writer Jennifer Weiner. She’s a New York Times bestselling author a few times over. Her book In Her Shoes became a big budget movie while  Hungry Heart, her bracingly honest collection of essays, offers solace for every woman who struggles with relationships, body image, and expectations. Weiner’s also a leading voice on twitter, where she tweets about everything from The Bachelor and gender equality. Now, thanks to a recent Runner’s World feature, we have proof she’s a mother runner, too.

AMR had a chance to virtually hang out with Jen and ask her a few questions about running, writing, and bras.

You mentioned in the Runner’s World piece that you started running in high school to condition for the cross country ski team -- and that it was like torture because you were the slowest. You started again after your youngest daughter was born. How did you decide to embrace the torture again? 

I started back running as part of a 75-minute workout at a boutique gym in Philadelphia, where you'd do 25 minutes of cardio, 25 minutes of weight training, and 25 minutes of yoga and stretching. Some of my comfort with running 20 years later had to do with the lack of competition. Instead of running in a group, on a road, where it was painfully obvious who was first and who was last, I was running in a group on a treadmill, where it was possible to sling a sweatshirt over the monitor and Hide My Shame. Until I got to the point where I realized that there was nothing to be ashamed of, and that at least I was moving.

Efficiency also mattered. If I only had a brief window to exercise, I wanted to get as much bang for my buck as I could -- and that was running.

And, if I'm being completely blunt, running bras have gotten a LOT better since 1987.

So if you, too, were scarred by being at the back of the pack during the Presidential Fitness Test or on your timed runs for a school team, remember: that part's all in the past. You don't have to worry about earning that patch or making varsity. You're only doing it for yourself -- and to model good behavior for your kids.

What is the longest distance you’ve raced? What distance do you enjoy racing? Or would you rather not pin a bib on at all?

I max out at 10 miles. Conveniently, that is the length of the Broad Street Run, which is one of the oldest and, now, most populated race in America. My husband has done half-marathons, but I'm not interested -- there's something about that extra 3.1 miles that just feels like a bridge too far.

I like racing because I like having something to work toward. I like having a goal, following a plan, and running with friends, and I can usually round up some of my similarly-paced friends to do a race with me. But, if I'm being honest, a 5K is my happy place...and if it's a triathlon, where I can excel in the swim and have to worry less about my running time, even better.

Let's talk gear. Is there a bra or shoe or shorts, etc., that you won't run without? (I asked a few running friends what they would ask you. Three mentioned wanting to know whichrunning bra you love.)

Shout-out to my amply-endowed runner-sisters!

Okay, everyone swears by the Enell, and I've got a bunch of them, but I can't stand the process of strapping the darn things on. It feels like you're a medieval lady donning a corset before you go sit in the hall and listen to someone play a lute. And I always mis-fasten at least one hook and have to start all over again. I'll wear them for race days, or long training runs, but if I can get away with something simpler, I will.

I like Goddess and Glamorise bras. They've got the right combination of uniboob-that-ain't-going-nowhere with a relatively simple fasten the back and go, and they come in cute color combinations (SO important. Especially given that the only person seeing this is me). I'll often use one of those as my base layer and put a stretchy, racerback-style bra on top, for additional stability. And if I really want to strap those puppies down, I'll put on a tank with a built-in bra on top of that.

We're all about TMI at AMR (and there's an amusing story about "birthing" a tampon in a portapotty at the Boston Marathon that one of us will never live down). Have you had any embarrassing running mishaps? 

You mean aside from the races I've finished so belatedly that they ran out of medals? And bananas? (I'm honestly okay without a medal or a tee shirt but DO NOT tell me there's no more bananas. Boo, hiss).

I'm not sure if this is embarrassing in a funny way or embarrassing in an I am insanely competitive and there's something wrong with me way, but, a few years ago, I signed up for the Danskin Triathlon in Philadelphia. For those of you who've done a Danskin race -- they are not generally one of your less-expensive races. So I train with appropriate rigor, and I am really looking forward to it.

So: it's race week. The swim's supposed to be in the mighty Schuylkill River, where people don't normally swim, insofar as it's generally regarded as a few steps above a sewer. All that week, officials were on the fence about the swim because -- true story -- a car had crashed into the river, at the conclusion of a high-speed chase, and the police had NOT YET RECOVERED THE DRIVER'S BODY. The Danskin people -- bless their hearts -- weren't sure they wanted us swimming with corpses.

My friends with whom I'm doing the race are all completely grossed out. Not me! I'm, like, "I'm not afraid of dead bodies! Bring on the swim!" Because I know that, without the swim, I'm going to finish in the "sorry, ladies, we're out of bananas" portion of the event.

So! Race day dawns. The forecast called for thunderstorms, but that barely begins to cover it. By the time we're supposed to start it is, like, Apocalypse-level thunder and lightning. There is absolutely no way in the world this weather is safe for racing. But there were hundreds of us signed up, and I don't think there was any way to reschedule, and I also don't think Danskin was interested in issuing refunds. The race must go on!

Between the lightning and the extant corpse, Danskin officials decided to cancel the swim and, instead, turn the race into a duathlon. Run, bike, run again. I am not happy. I haven't trained for this! And if there's no corpse-swim, I'm going to be super-slow. But, oh well...I'm here, and I've paid, and I'm doing this thing!

Jen at a (corpse-free) Broad Street Run.

The gun goes off, I run two miles or whatever it was. I am slooooooow. Because, see, I am conserving my strength for the final run. I get on my bike...and the storm is only getting worse. We're talking, Frankenstein's-monster-animation level lightning bolts. The opposite of safe. There is no way we should be out here doing this -- in fact, we should all probably be hiding in a storm shelter somewhere -- but the officials are still not calling it off. They are, instead, giving racers the option of continuing, with some kind of disclaimer, like, "If you get hit by lightning, not our fault." Every sensible woman is off the course by now, either because she's finished or because she's decided that her life matters more than a finisher's medal. But, me being me, I'm like, "I'M GOING TO DO IT." (Even though part of me is simultaneously thinking "I'M GOING TO DIE.") I finish the bike ride. I start running again. There's lightning all over the place. Hitting trees that are not terribly distant. I am still running. I am not stopping. I don't care if I get hit by lightning and I AM NOT QUITTING THIS RACE.

About a mile into the second run, things are so bad out there that I'm pretty sure the city made them say, "no mas." I wheel my bike home feeling disappointed that I didn't finish.

What has running taught you about yourself? Have all of the lessons been welcome ones?

As the previous story might have indicated, I have a competitive streak. My mother always jokes that nobody wants to go clamming with me because I have to get more clams than anyone else. I set the bar really high for myself, and if I don't clear it I get depressed.

Running has given me a different perspective on things...because I know that I'm never going to be fast. I'm never going to finish in first place. I'm not going to make the Olympics. I've had to accept that, and keep going anyhow...and I think that it's a valuable lesson, and that it's given me important perspective. When I tell my daughters, "You don't have to be the best at everything," and "there will be things you do just because you enjoy them, or because they give you rewards that aren't tied to winning," I can point to my life as a runner as an example. I think that back-of-the-pack runners have a reasonable, and reasonably humble outlook on the world, and their own place in life's food chain.

Last question: How do you keep yourself motivated when the running gets tough? And what would you tell another mother runner who is struggling to make time for herself in the middle of all of life's demands?   

When things get tough, I try to find a song that motivates me. Or I tell myself, "I'll just run for five more minutes, and if I still feel as miserable as I do right now, I'll stop." Once I get started, though, I almost always end up finishing, and feeling better than I did when I started. If you break a run, or a task, into pieces, and say, "Let me just finish this next piece," it's easier to get it done.

My advice to other moms is the same thing everyone told me, which is what they tell adults on airplanes: put your own oxygen mask on first. You can't take care of your kids if you're depleted or resentful. Making time for yourself is actually the least selfish thing you can do, and it's going to help you prioritize and manage the rest of your life more productively. And you're going to have days where it feels like the only thing you managed to do was a 20-minute run, or a 15-minute ab routine...but, when you're lying in bed, you can tell yourself that at least you've done something. To me, that's always been a good feeling.

3 responses to “Running and Writing: A Moment with Jennifer Weiner

  1. I know I’m late to the game here (family vacation last week, and I’m catching up on posts), but thank you for featuring Jennifer! I have adored her for so long, and I met her when she was on book tour several years ago. She is such a kind-hearted, fun person who has helped me a lot with my own body image. And I’m inspired knowing she is a mother runner, too!

  2. So…Danskin hasn’t been around for at least five years. Didn’t she get “revenge” by participating in another triathlon right away after this one was cancelled? Pretty lady…haven” read her books though. Need to get one (some). Wish it was more than a head shot- she talks body image and you put up a head shot. Hmmm…

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